An increase in coronavirus cases has been detected across California in the past week, confirming the warnings from some officials that the pandemic’s latest wave has yet to top out.
Across California, health officials reported an average of about 16,700 new coronavirus infections a day for the week ending June 9 — a 21% increase over the prior week, according to a Times analysis of state data released Friday.
That’s equivalent to 298 weekly cases for every 100,000 Californians. A rate of at least 100 cases per 100,000 is considered a high rate of transmission under criteria established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The official case tally is also almost assuredly an undercount, as many people are screening themselves using at-home coronavirus tests, the results of which are not reliably reported to health officials.
L.A. County is averaging about 5,100 coronavirus cases a day for the weekly period that ended Friday; that’s up 20% from the prior week.
The crush of cases is also continuing to send increasing numbers of coronavirus-positive patients to California hospitals, though the takeaway message from that metric remains mixed.
On the one hand, 2,716 such individuals were hospitalized statewide as of Sunday — up roughly 26% from two weeks ago.
On the other hand, the patient count remains well shy of the harrowing peaks seen earlier in the pandemic. In fact, the hospital census has yet to reach even the level seen during the gap between last summer’s Delta wave and the first Omicron surge that struck over the fall and winter.
Officials are also quick to note that many of those included in the hospital tally are not necessarily being treated for COVID-19. But too many coronavirus-positive patients in hospitals, whether they’re sick specifically because of COVID-19 illness or tested positive incidentally, strain resources because of the additional safety procedures necessary to keep the virus from spreading.
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“We need to remain vigilant and cautious,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Monday. “This includes layering protections to keep those most vulnerable as safe as possible, including wearing masks indoors, getting tested before gathering or attending events, and staying home if you are sick.”
Getting vaccinated and boosted, when eligible, also helps ward off infection — and continues to provide strong protection against severe illness, experts say.
Masks have also been a particular point of emphasis during the latest uptick, even though officials have, for the most part, stopped short of reinstituting requirements that they be worn in many places.
The California Department of Public Health, for instance, strongly recommends, but does not require, everyone mask up in indoor public settings, including businesses, on public transit and in transportation hubs.
However, in some counties and schools — including Alameda County — authorities have reintroduced public indoor mask mandates in response to increasing infections and hospitalizations.
Ferrer has said L.A. County would do likewise should it enter the CDC’s “high” COVID-19 community level. That category, the worst on the agency’s three-tier scale, indicates not only that there’s significant community transmission but that hospital systems may grow strained due to the demands posed by coronavirus-positive patients.
The CDC recommends universal indoor public masking for counties in the high COVID-19 community level.
L.A. County remains at the “medium” COVID-19 community level for now. The CDC updates its county assignments weekly.
As of Thursday, more than 67% of the U.S. population lived in an area with either a medium or high COVID-19 community level, according to CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky.
“As new areas shift to medium and high community levels, it is important to know your community level” and what precautions may be needed, she wrote on Twitter on Monday.
For counties at the medium level, federal health authorities recommend residents consider masking based on their personal risk.
A federal health review says Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine appears effective in children under 5, the only group not currently eligible for inoculation.
Ferrer noted that L.A. County does require masks in certain settings — including while aboard public transit — and that “we continue to strongly recommend indoor masking in all the other places.”
“We urge people, if you are testing positive, call your provider, call us, access that treatment opportunity if it’s right for you, because it will help keep people out of the hospital,” she told reporters recently. “But most importantly, try to add in some protection so you don’t inadvertently either get or spread COVID.”